Claude Lanzmann, the French filmmaker best known for the acclaimed Holocaust documentary Shoah has died in Paris. The director’s family confirmed the news to Le Monde and a spokesperson for publishing house Gallimard said Lanzmann passed away at home after having been “very very weak” for several days. He was 92. His death comes one day after the French theatrical release of his latest film, Les Quatre Soeurs, which features testimonials from four Holocaust survivors which were not included in Shoah.
Lanzmann was born in Paris on November 27, 1925. During World War II, his family went into hiding and he joined the French Resistance at the age of 17. He later fell in with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and other leaders of the French intellectual Left.
He worked as a journalist and joined the editorial team of revue Les Temps Modernes alongside de Beauvoir and Sartre in the 1950s, ultimately becoming its director. His first film was 1973’s Pourquoi Israel (Why Israel), a documentary examining life in Israel 25 years after the birth of the state. Other films as director include 1994’s Tashal; 2001’s Sobibor, 14 Octobre 1943, 16 Heures; 2013’s Le Dernier Des Injustes; and 2017’s Napalm. Each of those, save Tashal, received a berth in the Official Selection in Cannes.
But it was 1985’s Shoah with which Lanzmann was most closely associated. The documentary is widely regarded as a monumental achievement for its primary use of testimony, rather than archive footage, from both the survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust. It won the New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Non-Fiction Film, the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary and Best Documentary from the International Documentary Association.
“I remember the day the film was finished,” Lanzmann told Adam Benzine in 2016 HBO doc Claude Lanzmann: Spectres Of The Shoah, which was nominated for an Oscar that year. “It was like a bereavement,” Lanzmann said. “I knew nothing about the Holocaust. It’s not about survival. Shoah is a film about death at the very limit of humanity. You cannot finish a film like Shoah exploding with joy.”
Interviewed this week by French site Allo Ciné regarding the timing of Les Quatre Soeurs and why he didn’t include the women in Shoah, Lanzmann said, “I don’t know how to explain it. I didn’t know what I would do with these interviews. Each of these films is worthy of a work in itself. I met these women and found that each was capable of giving a unique, extraordinary testimony. To put them in Shoah didn’t make any sense.”
French film export body Unifrance mourned Lanzmann’s passing today: